Rob Reviews "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
I have never been a guy that collected autographs. I do have some that I have acquired here and there, but I am more about that person-to-person experience that gives me a memory for a lifetime, and I have been very lucky to be in the presences of some of the people I have looked up to for most of my life, and I think that not asking them for a picture or autograph has enhanced it for both parties. Add to that some of the absorbent prices that these autographs or documents tend to fetch at auctions, and I am even more perplexed. Even with a Certificate of Authentication, I still wonder sometimes how some of these things work.
With “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” director Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, a true story really takes a look at this phenomenon with Melissa McCarthy playing biographer Lee Israel, who has only had a modicum of success with her book on Estee Lauder and currently (in 1991) working on a book on Fanny Brice. With an agent (Jane Curtin) trying to help her understand that this is a bad idea while also letting her know that her less-than-sunny disposition is not suitable to sell her work, she continues on with her research and ends up stumbling upon a personal letter Brice wrote in the back of one of the books she is using for research. She “acquires” it and ends up selling it to a local bookstore, realizing that there is serious money in this particular arena to the point where she begins to forge letters by a number of famous (and deceased) entertainers by researching them to get their vernacular down and selling them all over town. After a chance meeting in a bar, she ends up enlisting the help of fellow author Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a flamboyant and mischievous sort who ends up furthering the out-of-control cyclone that is her life, to some very dire consequences.
I can only sum up my feelings of this film with one word, and that is the Internet-age label of “meh”. I cannot believe that either McCarthy or Heller wanted to portray Israel as any form of a sympathetic character (even with the subplot of her love for her cat) because given the quality of work from both of them normally, it wouldn’t seem even possible. There is nothing wrong with her portrayal, but at the same time I never saw her blend into the role. It was more of a lower level of the comedic character that McCarthy has been known to play. There is good work between her and Grant, but nothing that wowed me in any way.
I cannot say that this is a bad film, but it just isn’t one that I would go out of my way to see or recommend. There is a bit of an interesting stretch where the FBI starts to close in on her, and perhaps I would have been more interested to see that story as it played out from their perspective. It seemed very rushed in order to showcase the performances put forth by the two leads (as tends to be the case this time of year), which really bogs down this film. There is an interesting beat at the close of the film that could make the audience question some things as it comes to the secondary subject matter that does not really reveal itself until its second half, but that is still not enough for me to car anymore than I had for the previous half. Just know that unless you personally get an autograph from someone of note (and trust me, take a picture with that person with it to prove it), nothing may be what it seems.